There is something magical about getting up on a Saturday morning, piling the kids in the car, and heading downtown to the farmers market. It’s not just the abundant fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats, but also the people—the Burkean bonhomie of taking our little platoons out shopping for steaks and heirloom tomatoes alongside members of our expanded platoons.
Getting out to the farmers market is not, however, Clare Doody’s thing. Her reasons don’t have much to do with the food, but the people. She makes what she claims is an objective argument about why they are simply the worst, although objective, that word, it does not mean what she thinks it means.
Right there in the opening paragraph, she lets the truth slip out: “Some people think that has more to do with me than it does with farmers markets.” Well, yeah. As Charlie Sheen told Jennifer Grey in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Your problem is you.”
Fact: Hippies Do Smell Bad
It’s not that all of her criticisms of farmers markets, particularly as an ethos, are incorrect. The markets do tend to attract insufferable types who can’t just sell or buy food because it’s fresh and delicious, but because it was crafted with an artisanal spatula using only gluten-free, non-GMO ingredients and organic water that was only carried in BPA-free containers. Some of the people you encounter may even read Anne-Marie Slaughter, and often the hippies who grow the best bell peppers themselves emit a formidable aroma that stings the nostrils.
But the fruits and the jam—the real stuff, not that nonsense you get at the grocery store—are delicious. The farmer selling them didn’t put on those overalls just for the day; he wears those things on the regular. His wife made that jam back home in the kitchen from the fruit the man in overalls grew. Your grandmother tried to teach you to make preserves once, but you didn’t listen. And you can’t even grow mint. Thank God for that couple for saving you from the tyranny of fruit-flavored high fructose corn syrup and Red Delicious apples, as well as ensuring you can have mojitos.
Then there’s the man in the cowboy hat. He didn’t put it on just for the day, either. He wears it to protect his head from the sun when he’s out tending his cattle. They aren’t grass-finished, but they are grass-fed, which is still pretty awesome. The steaks are delicious, the ground beef superb, and the dozen eggs he throws in an excellent bonus. The pork from the eccentric vendor a few steps down is succulent. And the lamb chops from the booth next to that are so good you forget you don’t like lamb.
All I Need to Say Is ‘Tomatoes’
Granted, none of these men emit artisanal non-GMO gluten-free rays like a farmers market bat signal, and they should probably work on that, but they do excel at raising delicious animals, which is much more important anyway.
The crown jewel of the farmers market, though, is not one that once had four legs. Rather, it is one that four-legged critters might poach from a backyard garden: the tomato. The red water orbs of uniform shape and size that can withstand the rigors of shipping to grocery stores are not tomatoes. Real tomatoes are ugly—the uglier, the better. They are soft, and not given to withstanding shipping. They look like this, all cracked and gnarly. This is the lure, the reason you try to drag yourself and your kids out of bed early on a Saturday, but it is not why farmers markets are fantastic.
Doody didn’t discuss steaks or bacon. She doesn’t talk about fresh flowers or myriad varieties of honey. She doesn’t even mention tomatoes; apparently she’s unaware of the glory of the ugly farmers market offerings. In fact, the only grown item she mentions at any point in her short screed is rhubarb.
She’s also wrong about rhubarb. Strawberry rhubarb pie is delicious, and you should not cotton any opinion to the contrary. It’s at least in the top five pies in the world, if not the top three. If Doody has never tasted it in all its sweet and slightly spicy glory, then she needs to expand her horizons and stop the hate. I mean, in criticizing the rhubarb she’s agreeing with this guy, and he’s wrong about almost everything.
A Feature, Not a Bug (Unless They Don’t Use Pesticides)
But that’s not what’s going on here. Doody, who is likely more motivated by the fact that she doesn’t seem to be a social butterfly than the pretensions of farmers market shoppers, circles back through all her criticisms in the penultimate paragraph and says that maybe she’s a tad jealous before revealing that her biggest complaint about farmers markets is the crowds. Not the people, not their attitudes, just the sheer numbers.
Well, yeah, that’s sort of the point. That’s why we take our three kids there as early as possible—which with three young kids on a Saturday is like 11 a.m.—and fight for the best stuff. It’s not aggressive auction fighting so much as teaching kids about the early bird getting the worm. (Since they’re not gummy worms, your kids don’t listen.) That’s also why you run into your friends and their kids while walking around looking for ugly tomatoes, because they couldn’t get there ‘til 11 either.
Sure, the farmers market is crowded. It offers the opportunity to do this really weird thing and go out and be a part of your community, to see people you don’t often see and have some conversations. It’s an opportunity to make plans with those friends to get together for dinner. That night. You all know that the women will do the dishes after the men man the grill—because you know how to divide and conquer in your partnerships—and that some of the vegetables and meats you’re carrying will likely be on the menu.
Well, your menu. Kids have horrible taste, and prefer things with more gluten and genetically modified BPA, so it’s probably best to serve them mac and cheese or frozen pizza, because ugly tomatoes aren’t cheap and it’s ridiculous to waste good food on silly little humans with awful taste.
But at least they will have a chance to bond as you bond with your friends, and that’s the best part. As C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art….It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” That’s what’s growing at the farmers market. Doody should stop and look around before she misses it.